It’s probably an act that’s scorned at by some, but I felt compelled to do it.
Shortly after Chris Powell was appointed as manager of Huddersfield Town, I sent the former Charlton boss a handwritten letter that went into a second A4 side.
Given the manner of his sacking, the only opportunities I had had to thank him for his considerable efforts at The Valley were indirect ones. Tweets, blog posts and the third minute applause, but there’s limitations to all three.
So with there now being a way to contact him, I saw it fit to not only congratulate Powell on what I felt was a very good appointment for him, but directly give him my thanks.
My main motivation behind going through the effort to send him a letter was to inform him just how much I appreciated him and his side, and how I probably always will do.
For it’s not the case that I simply share the sort of appreciation that almost every other Addicks has for Powell. The vast, vast majority are thankful for his successes in digging the club out of a mire. At best, he created and developed a side that brought smiles back to the faces of Charlton supporters; at worst, he was a dignified leader in difficult circumstances.
But, for me, Powell and his side provided something a bit extra. They provided something to believe in, and find solace in, during difficult personal periods. Frequently I could escape from the frustrations of real life and emerge myself in this side that was determined, spirited and, for the most part, successful.
My personal attachment to Powell would be strong without it, but that he created an antidote to my personal difficulties means my appreciation of the man is unrelenting.
Informing of the impact he and his side had on me was incredibly rewarding, but I didn’t really expect the 21st century’s most stylish wearer of a flat cap to take time out to reply to, or even read, my waffle. He’s undoubtedly got more important things to be doing, especially right at the start of his tenure as boss of the Terriers.
Nonetheless, writing and sending the letter provided a rather irrational good feeling, even without taking into consideration that Powell may lay his eyes on it.
While I couldn’t give you an exact date, that letter was sent in September’s final third. I had reached the back end of November without response, which wasn’t surprising at all. I did, however, hope that he had read it. I told myself he did, because I so desperately wished for him to be aware of just how much I appreciated him as a person and what he had done at Charlton.
So it isn’t to say I had forgotten about sending the letter, it’s just that it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind on the back of a few hours’ sleep as I walked down Floyd Road before the early kick-off yesterday.
My old man regularly brings post for me from the week to games, and 104% of it is junk. He handed me an envelope as we walked to the ground, and I opened it with the sort of disdain that junk post deserves.
However, the way in which I opened the envelope meant the first thing I saw on the inside was a rather easy-on-the-eye signature above ‘Chris Powell’.
I should probably apologise here just in case any of you were walking down Floyd Road at the same time as me. I don’t make a habit of screaming like a teenage girl at a One Direction concert.
But, to use a masculine phrase, I was absolutely buzzing. Uncontrollably so.
It was just a short letter but, even so, it meant an incredible amount to me that Powell had first of all read my original letter, and then, whether he wrote it himself or not, got a response sent back to me. At the very least, he’s hand signed it, and that’s more than enough for me.
It’s confirmation, if it was needed, that the whole of English football are not misguided. Their belief that Chris Powell is one of the nicest men, and easiest to respect, in the game is correct. His cult hero status at several clubs, not least Charlton, deserved.
Few warrant success more than him, and I really hope he can turn the promising start at Huddersfield into something more serious. I can’t pretend a win for Powell doesn’t make me smile.
Cheers, Chris. You’re a top, top man.
In the week that Charlton supporters were left frustrated by their club’s failure to add additional forwards to their squad, Ipswich’s new loan striker winning his side the game following a succession of opportunities wasted by the Addicks was painfully predictable.
And this was as painful a loss as they come. Noel Hunt’s stoppage time winner, the Irishman scoring his first goal since Bob Peeters lost his hair, would have been difficult to take under any circumstances, but the overall nature of the game made it especially so.
A high intensity first half performance, one that should have been enough to win the game for Peeters’ side given the volume of chances created, couldn’t be replicated in the second. Almost all the spark and creativity had gone, with passes continuously misplaced and a sloppiness in the performance increasing as time went.
In fact, the only thing that was replicated was a distinct lack of composure in the final third, with the hosts crossing wayward deliveries and firing shots horrible wide during the increasingly rare moments they did manage to get forward.
It meant that Ipswich, who had themselves looked threatening on the handful of occasions they’d been able to mount an attack in the opening 45, were effectively allowed to grow more dominant and enjoy much of the better play in the second period.
There were warning signs for the Addicks, but it did appear as if Mick McCarthy was going to come away from The Valley without a win for the first time in five. A point for Charlton that was becoming increasingly hard-earned.
So when Hunt, capitalising upon some sloppy defending for which a number of players in red were guilty of, was given the time to take a touch and finish with the accuracy of a more prolific forward, there were two schools of thought.
The first being that this was cruel on the Addicks, whose first half performance arguably deserved more. The second suggesting that Charlton got what they deserved for wasting their chances and growing less competent as the game went on.
Regardless, there’s no getting away from the fact that Peeters’ side, losing their first at home all season, were punished for not taking their opportunities.
The Sky cameras present and The Valley a picture of beauty in the lunchtime sun, the game got underway at a high tempo, with Luke Chambers heading narrowly wide from a first minute corner for the visitors.
But Charlton immediately responded, with the one new addition to the side from last weekend’s draw with Millwall impressing.
Callum Harriott, drafted in for the injured Yoni Buyens, looked like the player he often threatened to be, with pace, flare and even an end product.
And it was the seemingly reinvigorated academy graduate who produced Charlton’s. first opening. Drifting in from the left, sheer pace allowed him to glide past a number of men in blue opening up the space to shoot.
But, cleverly, Harriott teed up Johann Berg Gumundsson, who frustratingly blasted over from a promising position. Nonetheless, it was what was needed to get the Covered End Choir into full voice.
In an end to end opening, Nick Pope, playing against the club whose academy he progressed through, was called upon to make an excellent stop from Paul Anderson having previously watched McGoldrick skew an effort wide.
But it was from that moment onward that the Addicks, playing an entertaining style of attacking football not seen since the victory over Derby County in August, began to dominate. In fact, for a twenty minute period, Chris Solly and Morgan Fox were almost permanently to be found in the opposition’s half as attack after attack was staged.
Most of Charlton’s best moves continued to come through Harriott, with the makeshift forward again creating space for himself and, on this occasion, flashing an effort agonisingly wide.
The youngster was then alive to capitalise after Jordan Cousins, collecting a marvellous ball over the top from the impressive Francis Coquelin, saw a shot blocked into his path, but Bartosz Bialkowski palmed the ball away strongly.
But, undeterred by their misfortune in front of goal, the Addicks continued to attack with a threatening fizz to their play. After Tal Ben Haim had ambitiously tried his luck from range, the effort sailing comfortably over the bar, Harriott again tested Ipswich’s Polish stopper before collecting Gudmundsson’s excellent through ball and fractionally missing the target with his strike.
Nonetheless, Charlton’s promising start took little away from the fact that the Tractor Boys had the fire power to cause the Addicks problems when they broke. David Murphy’s strike, hit powerfully and saved superbly by Pope, was a gentle reminder that Peeters’ side desperately needed to make their pressure tell.
So when a fantastically waited pass from Gudmundsson sent Coquelin through on goal, only for the impressive Bialkowski to race off his line and deny the Arsenal loanee, praise for Charlton’s performance began to turn into worry. It was beginning to feel like, no matter what they tried, the hosts simply wouldn’t be able to score.
Even when an unusual right foot struck the ball goalwards, Bialkowski was equal to Solly’s uncharacteristic attempt.
But, as half-time approached, Charlton were given the perfect reminder that they couldn’t continue such wastefulness in the second period. Pope, inspired against the club who released him as a 15-year-old, got down well to turn McGoldrick’s header around the post.
And from the following corner, which proved to be the final piece of meaningful action in the half, Tommy Smith sliced an effort not too far off target. Ipswich themselves might well have argued they could have been ahead as the half-time whistle blew.
Regardless, Peeters’ men were given a standing ovation as they left the field; an ovation that each and every player in red deserved. From Pope’s smart saves to Bikey’s aerial dominance, from Johnnie Jackson’s pressing to Igor Vetokele’s hold-up play and from Coqulien’s control of midfield to Cousins and Harriott’s liveliness, individual efforts matched what was a very good, although frustrating, first-half performance.
All the talk, however, during the break was not about how impressive the Addicks had been, but how there was every chance such wastefulness in front of goal was going to contest.
It might well have been exaggerated football fan negativity and panic, but a penetrating run from Tyrone Mings at the start of the second period did little to settle the nerves.
The full-back, picked out by a fantastic ball from McGoldrick, drove at Charlton’s defence before cutting inside and unleashing an effort that forced hearts to skip a beat in the Covered End. With the youngster slightly off balance has he shot, the ball flashed wide of the post, but not by much of a margin.
And while Mings’ effort failed to be the catalyst for further Ipswich dominance, it was apparent that the Addicks were playing at a level well below the one reached in the opening 45.
Groans, largely justified, became frequent as sliced clearances and misdirected passes epitomised the now sloppy nature of Charlton’s play, while Gumundsson’s set-pieces, continuing to take them despite Jackson’s presence on the pitch, were outrageously woeful for a player of such quality.
The frustration at the start of the second half also wasn’t helped by Vetokele, visibly off the pace having not trained in the run up to the game. His normal sharpness, and sound decision making, in front of goal was nowhere to be seen as the few testing deliveries Charlton put into the box were not won by the Angolan, and he appeared indecisive when collecting the ball on the edge of the area.
It reaffirmed just how reliant Charlton are on a fit and firing Vetokele to win matches.
On the other hand, McCarthy has two excellent strikers at his disposal. The first, Murphy, drove forward having intercepted Ben Haim’s tame pass out from the back, but a deflection took his shot over the bar, while the second, McGoldrick, had the ball sit up nicely for him after Charlton’s backline failed to deal with Stephen Hunt free-kick, but could only wastefully drive the chance straight at Pope.
There was a real sense the course of the game had now completely reversed, with Ipswich the more composed and competent on the ball, and Charlton having to settle for the half chances they could muster on the break. Harriott miskicking from Vetokele’s driven delivery just about summed up the sloppiness that was poisoning all the good the Addicks had previously done.
But, despite Charlton’s growing weakness, only the brave would have predicted this game was heading for anything but a goalless draw. Efforts on goal were still taken by both sides, McGoldrick flashing wide by a comfortable enough margin and Gudmundsson replicating the strike down the other end, but the waywardness showed no signs of stopping.
In fact, it’s probably fair to say most Addicks were desperately hoping for full-time as they grew more frustrated with their side. Substitute Lawrie Wilson’s through ball inch perfect for Vetokele, but the drained forward couldn’t get it under his control when it looked a simple task to do so.
And, following a succession of blocked Charlton strikes and a Harriott drive that flew over the bar, that desire for full-time to be reached grew greater as Ipswich began to seriously threaten in the game’s final minutes.
Another strike from the ever lively McGoldrick, again saved well by the almost faultless Pope, had the Covered End holding its collective breath, but that was minute anxiety compared to that as substitute Connor Sammon was sent through on goal with stoppage time approaching.
Seemingly in an excellent position to covert a late winner for the Tractor Boys, one of, if not the best, tackle The Valley will see this season, from Andre Bikey, denied the Irishman. Rarely does a tackle earn a standing ovation, but this one warranted the one it received; Charlton supporters under no illusion just how important and perfectly timed Bikey’s sliding challenge was.
There and then both sides could have shaken hands and been equally happy enough with a point, but Ipswich had other ideas.
McGoldrick, having flashed off-target at the start of four minutes of additional time, then failed to direct a header goalwards from a corner won after those four minutes had expired; the game extended due to an injury that induced blood from substitute and debutant Noel Hunt.
And as Charlton attempted to break from that Ipswich set-piece, a rush of blood to the head meant Ben Haim opted to bomb forward with it, leaving Morgan Fox filling in at centre back and sub Frederic Bulot plugging a hole on the left.
So when Ipswich reclaimed possession and sent out to their right flank, McGoldrick collected the ball with ease and shrugged off the attempts of Bulot to dispossess him.
His subsequent cross may have been poorly directed, but Fox panicked when clearing, and sent the ball straight to Noel Hunt on the edge of the box.
Unmarked and with plenty of space, the Irishman was allowed to take a touch with his chest, pick which ever spot in Charlton’s goal he wanted to aim for, and then finish with some style. The silence as the ball hit the net just as agonising as the noise from the Ipswich end that followed. Cruel.
With next to no time left in the match, Hunt’s strike proved to be the last meaningful action. A Valley, already half-empty, reacted in a disbelieving silence; aspects of the performance making it incredibly hard to react too critically.
But, for failing to take the glutton of chances that were created, Charlton supporters were forced to accept that their defeat, against an Ipswich who grew stronger as Charlton became weaker, wasn’t undeserved.
To those watching on Sky Sports, it might have been very easy to take the positives from Charlton’s performance. In truth, the first half especially, there were lots to be had.
It was not only the fact that so many openings were created, but the manner in which they were. The passing, both superbly waited long balls from Coqulien and co and the sharper, shorter exchanges, was a joy to watch at times, while the pace, flair and attacking energy that had been missing in general for a number of weeks showed very clear signs of returning.
There were also positives in the first half defensive display, with Jackson’s persistent pressing and the back four’s dominance allowing the Addicks to quickly regain possession having lost it. Even when Ipswich threatened, Pope looked in no mood to be beaten. Charlton looked comfortable.
But, having seen similar performances for two seasons now, where the most isn’t made of pressure and chances resulting in a failure to win, it’s very difficult to take those positives for what they might well appear to be.
Of course, wasting chances wasn’t Charlton’s only problem today, with the midfield and defence growing more fragile as the game went on, but that was only as a result of that first half pressure not being utilised and Ipswich being gifted a route back in the match.
In truth, but for a few less than impressive moments at the back in the first half, the Tractor Boys managed to maintain a persistent level of threat that became more testing as Charlton began to struggle.
Jay Tabb took over from Coqulien in dictating the midfield, Anderson was incredibly creative and the front duo of McGoldrick and Murphy potentially one of the best in the Championship. Had they not scored, they could feasibly bemoaned the fact a win they had worked for hadn’t arrived.
And Charlton can probably feel similar, but they really only have themselves to blame for not getting something out of the contest.
While some blame has to be labelled at the likes of Harriott and Gudmundsson for not taking the chances that came their way, the more damming fact is that we’re forced to on an unfit Vetokele, who quite clearly struggled.
The failure to recruit an additional forward, both in the summer and through the loan window has come back to bite us. A side attempting to mix with the better sides in this division cannot expect to do so with just one reasonable forward, and one that has to be used whether he has a fully functioning body or not.
I’m not suggesting for a second that I would have been happy had we signed Noel Hunt, but that a loan forward scored the winner for the visitors reinforced just how frustrating Charlton’s lack of movement in the loan marker has been.
An afternoon where positives were tainted, and using those positives going forward is further tained by the fact that, regardless of how well we play, it counts for absolutely nothing without composed finishing.
The signing of Neil Etheridge brought back memories I’d rather forget from one of the worst nights I’ve endured as a Charlton fan.
Growing up in Milton Keynes, it was absolutely unthinkable that the club I supported, the one that graced the Premier League and battled with England’s best, could ever face the team that shouldn’t have been playing games in my hometown.
Alas, this trip to Stadium:MK was the third I had made as a Charlton supporter. Two wins had been picked up in the previous meetings, to go with two wins at The Valley, and it was even more unthinkable that the Addicks could ever lose to the Franchise.
But, while Etheridge sat on the bench, the players representing Charlton that night were nothing short of embarrassing. A spiritless 2-0 defeat that made the Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool fans I went to school with suddenly decide they also supported MK Dons. Horrible.
Nonetheless, the signing of Etheridge did also remind me how far we’ve come in the past few seasons. A sinking ship that showed no sign of stopping to a club on the outskirts of the Championship play-offs. Progress has, and is, being made.
We’ve largely been able to distance ourselves from players like Etheridge. Instead, players with incredible quality, such as Igor Vetokele, Andre Bikey and Johann Berg Gudmundsson have become part of the squad.
So it’s probably greedy to demand more, and equally so to expect the club do everything that is asked of them. After all, in many aspects, there has been an unexpected positive transformation of late.
But, almost undoubtedly, the current situation for the Addicks could be better. Potentially dramatically so. It’s been said so many times, but Bob Peeters’ side is realistically just a striker or two from mounting a serious and season-long play-off push.
While the club have moved quickly to secure a replacement goalkeeper, one that has played a handful of games and is of a fairly low quality, for the injured Stephen Henderson, there is a reluctance to address the lack of firepower and numbers in attack.
Of course, there is Vetokele. The Angolan has been a revelation since arriving in the summer, and clearly enjoys playing under Peeters, a boss who he previously worked with. But the weekly ritual of praying he will be fit, having not trained through the week, is not only becoming tiresome but must surely be damaging for the forward.
Then there is the injured Simon Church, a player Peeters seemingly has no interest in playing with one fully-functioning shoulder or two, the inconsistent and often infuriating George Tucudean, and a pair of young forwards, in Karlan Ahearne-Grant and Joe Piggot, who aren’t ready for first-team football.
Surely, like replacing a goalkeeper with a short-term fix, finding a forward or two, at the very least as cover, should have been done at some point throughout a loan window that has lasted just shy of three months.
So why haven’t we? Peeters has constantly bemoaned the lack of quality available in the loan window, so much so it has become as tiresome as Vetokele’s constant late fitness tests.
In fact, Peeters told News Shopper today that: “We are looking for a good striker but that costs a lot of money, and we don’t want to be one of the teams who’s bringing in a striker to make the fans content.”
“We’re looking, but we want to bring in a striker like we did with Igor Vetokele where the fans think ‘Woah, what a signing that is’.
And maybe the Belgian boss has a point. We may all want a forward, but signing a Tresor Kandol or a Frank Nouble isn’t going to make the situation any better.
On top of that, it’s unreasonable to suggest that the club can afford the wages of someone like Darren Bent, as desperate as I am to see one of my favourite Addicks return to SE7.
But, in general, the point about a lack of quality options available that Peeters has wheeled out for several weeks doesn’t really hold true.
In addition to Bent, Craig Mackail-Smith, Danny Graham and Matt Smith are among the forwards who have moved out on loan in recent weeks. Of course, they’re not quite on Vetokele’s level, but you’d do well to argue they wouldn’t improve the squad.
At the very least, the quality of forward that has recently gone out on loan would provide adequate cover that means Vetokele can take the rest he so clearly needs. It defies logic to provide him with neither a partner nor a man who can fill in for him when needs be.
And with another forward option, Charlton might well be a fair few points better off. Of course, it’s impossible to say, but the failure to turn draws into wins has largely been due to a lack of fire power up top. For the sake of a few additional pounds on the wage bill, that would have been parted with anyway had Andy Delort been signed in the summer, the Addicks could be looking even futher up the table.
It also means the Addicks must struggle through a very testing period with their depleted forward options. Ipswich (x2), Nottingham Forest, Blackburn and Cardiff are all played before the transfer window reopens.
And while Peeters has confirmed that the club will actively look for a forward in January, if they’re cost effective at least, it’s hard to feel confident that a signing will be achieved.
While Roland Duchatelet’s tight running of a club that was previously leaking pounds left, right and centre is commendable, and something I’m fully behind, there is a danger it is going too far the other way. Financial decisions are being placed above the importance of football decisions; why sign a player who will cost me when there’s a 17-year-old who is half-decent in the youth team?
It also throws into doubt, at least to some extent, the methods Charlton use to recruit players. While it’s all well and good relying on stats in the network’s scouting system, sometimes, a very basic principle of common sense is more powerful.
Would a scouting system have suggested that signing Yann Kermorgant was a good thing? A player seemingly at the bottom of his career, who had failed to impress for a number of years. Arguably not. Such a scouting system probably failed to suggest that any of the robust forwards available for loan, who although not prolific would have been useful, were good enough.
But it has pointed the Addicks in the direction of Delort, seemingly uninterested in playing for Wigan and, according to reports, not good enough, and Piotr Parzyszek, whose goals in Belgium’s second tier count for nothing.
In fact, for all Duchatelet has put right, for all the poor decisions and poor treatment of personnel that have gone onto be corrected or ignored thanks to subsequent success, the sale of and failure to replace Kermorgant remains a piece of stubborn stupidity.
I look back at the state we were in when Etheridge first signed and I genuinely do feel a tinge of guilt for complaining, but is it really wrong to a feel sense of frustration that things could be better?
One weekend may have passed where a long standing hoodoo survived Charlton’s attempts to rid it, but another arrives with the Addicks given the chance to get over two more curses.
The first is obvious. They say TV adds three pounds to the figure, but being live on Sky rarely adds three points to Charlton’s total. October’s 3-0 defeat to Fulham makes it 12 defeats in the previous 20 TV games.
For whatever reason, the presence of cameras cause the Addicks to choke, and the chance of Charlton finally putting in a respectable TV performance seems even more unlikely given their recent record against Ipswich boss Mick McCarthy.
It might well be questionable to call it a hoodoo, but the Yorkshire-cum-Irishman certainly knows how to get a result at The Valley. Although he has to live with the embarrassment of being the last Millwall manager to suffer defeat in SE7, he’s led his side to victory in his last four visits to Charlton, grabbing two wins apiece with Wolves and Ipswich, and is also unbeaten in his last seven against the Addicks both home and away.
The defeats to Ipswich in the past two season have been particularly frustrating, with McCarthy’s side racing into a lead before sitting deep and putting in an incredible defensive effort. In other words, the 55-year-old can get his well-organised, if not spectacular, group of players to deliver the perfect away performance.
Throw into this rather imposing picture the fact that Ipswich are five games unbeaten and the amount of injuries at Charlton is boarding on crisis and there’s a genuine concern that his could be the first time Bob Peeters suffers defeat at The Valley.
But, of course, those sorts of records are there to be ended, while Charlton have on more than one occasion this season triumphed when the pre-game signs have suggested they would not. They will, at the very least, make life extremely difficult for McCarthy’s men.
LAST MEETING – IPSWICH TOWN 1-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
As far as indicators for an enjoyable afternoon go, getting hugged by a man dressed as robin while Johnnie Jackson knee slides below you is probably a fairly good one.
The skipper’s stoppage-time volley earned the Reds a share of the spoils that they had worked tirelessly for, having fought for an equaliser from the moment Richard Wood comically turned the ball into his own net.
But, despite controlling much of the New Year’s Day game thereafter, the Addicks looked to have had their defeat confirmed when Jordan Cousins handed the Tractor Boys a soft penalty. David McGoldrick stepped up, but Ben Alnwick saved well to keep Charlton in the game.
And that save gave Jackson the chance to reaffirm his hero status in SE7. Church’s lay-off was volleyed into the ground by the skipper, and beyond the reach of Dean Gerken. Scenes.
Before each Championship season, Ipswich are tipped as outsiders for promotion. They may often fall just before the final hurdle, with their squad often smaller and less talented than other promotion contenders, but they regularly cause problems for those at the top of the division.
However, McCarthy’s side, although again arguably possessing a squad without the quality of many others, look in fantastic shape to finish in the top six come May, and currently occupy fourth in the Championship table.
Their current unbeaten run includes wins over Wolves and Watford, while digging deep to steal a point from the Goldsands is also commendable.
The lowest number of defeats but the most draws. Hard to beat but often lacking the cutting edge in the final third to turn one point into three. Charlton’s start to the season has, in truth, been excellent, but it might well have been better.
In fact, had George Tucudean not fluffed his lines in the goalless draw with Millwall, the Addicks would be outside the play-offs on just goal-difference.
Nonetheless, there has been plenty of positives to take from the previous four results. With draws against Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds hard earned, while the win over Reading a fantastic display of determination and resilience.
And last weekend’s performance was right on the borderline of being a very good one. Largely, Charlton were in control, but just couldn’t quite find a way through Millwall’s back four.
As frustrating as it is recording a relative lack of wins in recent weeks, the side continues to threaten to click fully into gear.
Ipswich will be able to call upon new signings Sean St Ledger and Noel Hunt at The Valley.
St Ledger, previously a free agent, and Hunt, signed on loan from Leeds and joining brother Stephen at the club, are unlikely to start, but look set to be involved with the squad that travels to SE7.
McCarthy, however, will be without the suspended Christophe Berra, who picked up his fifth booking of the season in last weekend’s draw with Bournemouth, while midfielder Kevin Bru has been ruled out with an ankle problem.
There is also some doubt over full-back Tyrone Mings, who hasn’t trained all week, but McCarthy is hopeful the youngster will be fit to play.
Charlton’s rather small squad will be extremely light of numbers on Saturday, with several players absent.
The latest addition to the Sparrows Lane treatment room is Yoni Buyens, who picked up a hamstring injury in Saturday’s draw with Millwall.
Callum Harriott, Lawrie Wilson and Frederic Bulot will be looking to start in place of the Standard Liege loanee, with Jordan Cousins likely to occupy a central role.
Also missing for the Addicks will be former Ipswich goalkeeper Stephen Henderson, meaning Nick Pope will start between the posts, while Morgan Fox will continue to deputise for the injured Rhoys Wiggins.
To make matters worse, Simon Church and Franck Moussa remain out, while Francis Coquelin will play the final game of his loan spell unless an extension can be agreed with Arsenal.
It might well be worth bringing my boots on Saturday. Just in case.
KEY BATTLE: THE QUICKEST STARTER
McCarthy’s Ipswich have previously been allowed to execute their game plan to perfection in SE7. An early goal or two, followed by a solid defensive display, has given Charlton absolutely no chance.
And during this campaign, the Tractor Boys have claimed a number of their wins in similar fashion. In fact, they are yet to win a game in which they have at one point trailed.
It’s therefore of paramount importance that the Addicks take the lead on Saturday, and do so early on.
Although McCarthy is more than a one-trick pony, it would certainly disrupt his game plan and give Peeters’ side the chance to grind out a result of their own; something they’re very capable of doing.
Regardless of the records, hoodoos and injuries stacking up against the Addicks, there were enough positive signs in the draw with Millwall, especially with Coquelin in midfield, to suggest that they’ll be able to grab a result against the Tractor Boys.
It is, however, unlikely to be pretty. A war of attrition between two well organised sides. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Ipswich Town
Amidst the celebrations at the end of last season as Charlton maintained their Championship status, there was also relief a player who had long threatened to become an exceptional performer had, seemingly, finally reached that level.
For it was Callum Harriott’s goals that first sealed the win over Watford that confirmed the Addicks had avoided the drop, and then ended an arduous season in style at Bloomfield Road.
And arduous is probably how Harriott viewed the campaign on a personal level. If nothing else, it was certainly frustrating for the young winger.
Failing to build further on the momentum he built for himself at the back end of the 2012/13 season, he was in and out of the team, guilty of some game changing mistakes and rarely made a positive impact.
But those final two games of the season, in addition to playing a huge role in the comeback win over Sheffield Wednesday, suggested that the development of a man who is still only 20 was back on track.
In fact, you could make a decent case to say that not only was Harriott’s development back on track, but he had actually improved as a footballer when compared to the raw talent that represented the Addicks 12 months prior to that.
Although making an immediate impact after coming into the side at the start of 2013, including playing his part in the eight-game unbeaten run at the end of that season, it was obvious he was far from the finished product.
He was exciting, certainly, but also very raw. He would often get in good positions and fail to execute a decent delivery, or ruin those good positions by making what was seemingly an incorrect decision. Like all young players, he was sometimes a little nervous and not yet quite suited enough to the professional game to make the right choice on every occasion.
But at the end of last season, Harriott stopped overcomplicating things, stopped trying too hard and just let his natural ability takeover. Better decisions were made, there was a genuine threat in the way he moved forward and, finally, there was an end product.
The catalyst for that upturn in form was the through ball at Hillsborough that sent Marvin Sordell through on goal to get the Addicks back into the game, and it’s clear Harriott needs catalysts to get into his stride.
No player has relied on the confidence given to him by important moments in my time as a Charlton fan like Harriott does. Only Jerome Thomas and Bradley Wright-Phillips come anywhere near.
Therefore, important moments also work against the youngster. He seems to struggle after making an error, either trying too hard to make amends or visibly looking disappointed to the point where all spark from his performance disappears.
And that’s possibly one explanation for why Harriott, who many Addicks were excited to see at the start of this season in the hope he would continue his form from the end of last season, has somewhat struggled during this campaign.
The opening day miss at Brentford, hitting the bar with no goalkeeper standing between him and the goal, allowed the Bees to go on and claim a point from the contest. Had he converted that chance, it’s reasonable to suggest the sort of Harriott that was seen in May might have made appearances in August and beyond.
But the miss, although almost certainly not the only reason Harriott has struggled to play anywhere near his best this season, has meant the winger has returned to the character that frustrated Addicks for much of the previous campaign.
While it’s somewhat harsh to judge on a handful of appearances, largely from the bench, it’s apparent the same mistakes are still being made by the 20-year-old despite having 61 appearances to his name.
In fact, his performance in the draw with Millwall is the perfect example of Harriott’s frustrating nature.
In truth, it was one of Harriott’s better performances of the past year. He persistently created space for himself, gave the impressive Alan Dunne a number of problems and carved out a couple of openings for his side.
On that basis, you can see why some Addicks were generous with their praise for the winger, who came on midway through the first-half after Yoni Buyens picked up an injury.
But, in and among the positives, there were the faults in Harriott’s game that should really have been addressed by now.
His eagerness to impress leads to silly and unnecessary fouls. Before half-time, Harriott had already given away a couple of dangerous looking free-kicks by simply trying too hard to win the ball and barging into the player without control.
Last season, he gave away a penalty against Leeds with such a foul, and it’s a cause for concern that he still can’t press opponents without going in recklessly, and that he still can’t keep his desire to impress in check.
Along similar lines, there has always been a reluctance from Harriott to get stuck in. Of course, it’s not the role of a five-foot something winger to make crunching tackles, but you would expect to at least the opponent’s life difficult in a 50/50.
On top of that, too often Harriott made the incorrect call. He released the ball when he should have kept it, and kept the ball when he should have released it. Harriott’s decision making is something that has long been holding him back, and it’s probably not helped by that apparent desire to impress, especially given the fact he has played just a handful of games under Charlton’s new boss.
Recently, Bob Peeters suggested that Harriott needs to cut the tricks out of his game, and simplify it. And while that does seem a simple thing to suggest, it couldn’t be truer. Harriott has been at his best for the Addicks when he’s played a simple game.
Yesterday, like so many times previously, he attempted to overcomplicate things unnecessarily. Of course, it’s easy to say sitting from high up in the stands, but it’s frustrating not to see what seem like clear moves made by the youngster.
You really just want Harriott to play with a care free attitude, to not have to think about what he’s doing, because that’s what seemingly leads to the errors, and just let his ability override the need to think. It’s apparent he can only do that when confident, and he can only get to a level of confidence by playing with a care free attitude. Developing a football brain is a must.
It’s also a frustration that while Harriott appears not to have developed his decision making and the mental aspect of his game, his fellow academy graduates have done. Diego Poyet immediately got to grips with first team football, Jordan Cousins has improved massively over the last 12 months and even Morgan Fox is beginning to look a little more comfortable. You could say similar things about Nick Pope, who benefited from a loan move to York.
Harriott, that end of season run aside, hasn’t showed noticeable signs of improvement since his first major run in the team.
And maybe, given the sort of player he is, a loan move would do him some good. His potential to be a dangerous player means, if possible, I’d rather not lose the option of using him, but, in the long term, a run of games in a lower league may be exactly what he needs.
I’m desperate for one of the most exciting academy graduates, in terms of his style of play, to reach his potential.
In fact, a comment from a fellow fan I overhead yesterday interested me. Said fan compared Harriott to Scott Wagstaff, suggesting that, like with Harriott, Wagstaff always showed potential but never really anything more than that.
Occasionally, the now Bristol City player produced a moment of magic or a decent enough performance, but all too often it was a case of getting into good positions, showing some ability but contributing little to the cause.
Of course, as stated earlier in this piece, Harriott is only 20. There is still plenty of time for him to develop, to improve on his composure and learn what move is right in any given situation. There is still time for him to make the most of his potential, arguably unlike Wagstaff.
Despite my criticism suggesting otherwise, I do believe that Harriott has a very good chance of fulfilling his potential. A big change is needed inside his head, I feel, if he is to reach his best, but you would like think that will come in due course.
But there is a need for Harriott to begin to show some consistency, and to show the same maturity as his fellow academy graduates, if his potential is to be realised.
Watches were nervously being looked at all over The Valley. Charlton supporters unsure whether to wish for more time in the hope of finally beating Millwall or less and settle for a point against their rivals; the visiting fans seemingly wanting the fifth minute of five added on to be reached quickly and their unbeaten run against the Addicks to continue.
It was an enthralling ending to a hard-fought and well contested South East London derby. Neither side willing to sacrifice what they already had, but, even the visitors, desperately hoping to steal the bragging rights.
But there was a chance for the Addicks to steal the bragging rights. The best chance of a goalless contest. The best chance Charlton have had in 18 years to beat their neighbours.
Igor Vetokele suddenly got the better of the defence that had kept him quiet for most of the game, and played an unmarked George Tucudean through on goal. Checks of watches momentarily stopped; this was Tucudean’s time.
His shot delicately lobbed over David Forde, the home supporters rising in expectation, record books lined up to be ripped apart. The Valley was set for the most incredible of moments.
The Romanian forward, who became a father in the small hours of the morning, was seemingly about to top off a day he would never forget by moving from much criticised figure to something resembling a Valley legend. At the very least, people would surely be speaking of the celebrations after Tucudean’s winner for years to come.
And premature cries of celebration were heard as the ball moved towards the empty goal. But they, along with any thoughts of ending the Millwall hoodoo, were far too premature.
Players in blue were frantically tracking back, desperate not be part of the first Millwall side to lose to the Addicks in the 21st century. And with Tucudean’s effort proving to be too delicate a lob, a combination of Byron Webster and Alan Dunne got back to just about scramble the ball away.
But just about was all it was. For a brief moment, the ball seemed to be back at the feet of Tucudean, but the forward couldn’t capitalise when it seemed easier to score. Premature cries of celebration became very real cries of anguish, largely directed at a floored Tucudean.
The familiar feeling of pain against the Lions returned.
And although this was a much better performance from the Addicks when compared to previous contests with the Lions, the hosts edging the overall run of play in what was a tense encounter, it proved to be just as frustrating as any of the games since 1996.
Will the win over Millwall ever come? Undoubtedly it will have to at some point, but Charlton blew what was seemingly their time to right previous wrongs.
Even before kick-off, there was an expectation that this was a glorious opportunity for the Addicks, made more so by the presence of Vetokele in the starting line-up.
In fact, the inclusion of the Angolan, leading the line on his own despite being a major doubt for the clash, meant Charlton supporters were more willing to play down the importance of Stephen Henderson’s absence, with Nick Pope replacing the injured number one in goal.
And the young stopper proved himself up for the challenge in the early stages as two sets of vocal supporters and two sides seemingly intent on giving their all made for an intense derby atmosphere.
Racing off his line, Pope collected two dangerous looking loose balls inside his penalty area to make sure a bright start for a much-changed Millwall side, with former Addick Ricardo Fuller dropped to the bench, wasn’t capitalised upon.
And while Lees Gregory and Martin were getting the better of Tal Ben Haim and Andre Bikey in the early encounters, causing worry in the home ends given what has gone before in these fixtures, it was always likely that Charlton would cause some problems of their own against an out of sorts Millwall.
In fact, with just six minutes played, the Addicks carved out an excellent opening for their top scorer.
Gumundsson, having performed a signature turn out into the centre, sent Cousins steaming down the left with a delicious ball over the top, and the academy graduate picked out Vetokele perfectly.
But the forward’s execution wasn’t quite so pinpoint, with the ball skewing wide after coming off his head at an awkward angle. Not exactly a guilt edge chance, but one you would expect a player of Vetokele’s calibre to make better use of.
Alas, if Millwall’s efforts on goal were anything to go by, Charlton could afford to waste a few of their own. Martyn Woolford’s strike from range closer to the corner flag than Pope’s near post, much to the delight of the noticeably loud Covered End, who were otherwise spending a great deal of their time lauding the former Lions striker who patrolled the Addicks’ technical area.
And Bob Peeters was forced into action much early than he would have liked, having to call up Callum Harriott from the bench to replace the injured Yoni Buyens.
Initially, it looked like a huge blow for the Addicks, with the Standard Liege loanee possessing the ability to persistently break-up opposition attacks and be the catalyst for Charlton spells of dominance. In an end-to-end derby, such skills were seemingly vital.
Instead, Buyens’ injury proved to have a positive affect on the hosts, with the impressive Francis Coquelin dropping into a deeper role and quickly imposing himself at the heart of the midfield battle.
While playing in a slightly more advanced role, the Arsenal loanee had frustrated with a number of through balls that, although involved excellent vision, were either too ambitious or poorly executed. In fact, Charlton were having decent spells of possession, but, possibly through derby nerves, anxious to play the ball forward and far too wasteful when in the final third.
With Coquelin in a defensive midfield position, he simplified his game, and the Addicks in general looked more composed and comfortable almost immediately. Johann Berg Gumundsson began to be real threat, beating his man constantly, Johnnie Jackson and the now central Cousins pressed with greater threat and even Harriott, although frequently faltering in the final third, looked lively.
Nonetheless, while the battle was compelling and intense, chances remained at a premium.
In fact, it was arguably Millwall, still possessing a decent enough threat on the break, who had the better of them before the interval. Pope was forced into a smart stop from Ed Upson’s header and former Addick Martin flashed an inviting ball across the face of goal either side of a Bikey nod towards goal that was comfortably saved by Forde.
So while both sides could go in at the break fairly happy with how they’d battled in the derby clash, both knew improvement was needed in the final third. Especially for the Addicks, who had the foundations from which they could apply plenty of pressure to their opponents.
And with the Coquelin shaped base from which to build from, Charlton began the second half in fine fashion. There was a greater intensity, more accuracy in even the most impossible of passes and seemingly a real threat.
It was rudely interrupted by Scott McDonald, oddly playing as a holding midfielder, and doing it quite well, who had the ball in the net only for a handball in the build up to deny him a second fortuitous goal against the Addicks in consecutive seasons, but Charlton quickly got back into their stride.
A fantastic ball from Coquelin picked out Harriott, and his cut back found Jackson, but the skipper’s effort was blocked away by what appeared to be the hand of Webster. Another big call for the match officials, but this time it went against the hosts, with Charlton’s appeals waved away.
The openings, however, kept coming for the Addicks, with Harriott, although making questionable calls to take an extra touch on several occasions, forcing Millwall’s back four to throw life and limb in the way of his deliveries and shots.
But, for all the hosts’ good work, it wasn’t until the hour mark when the first meaningful effort on goal was mustered. The exceptional Gudmundsson cutting inside and forcing a decent save out of Forde. The momentum now truly with Charlton, epitomised by the wall of noise coming from behind the goal they were attacking.
Nonetheless, those passionate Addicks were going to remain somewhat nervous until a player in red finally put a chance away. Given what they’ve seen before, you couldn’t excuse them for beginning to feel rather concerned as attack after attacking failed to be converted.
So when Harriott, having collected Cousins’ cross after good work from the characteristically unflappable Chris Solly, beat Forde only for the effort to then be blocked away on the line, you started to feel like this, once again, wasn’t going to be Charlton’s day against their rivals.
Which meant it probably wasn’t the best of times to remove your head from your hands and see Fuller take to the pitch.
The former Charlton man, having horribly ballooned an effort wide shortly after coming on, immediately made an impression on the hosts’ back four, giving a rather shaky Bikey a difficult time and involved as McDonald shot wide.
In fact, Fuller’s introduction proved to be the catalyst for something of a Millwall resurgence. The Addicks, no longer possessing that persistent attacking threat, came under heavy pressure as Pope just about got behind Shaun Williams’ free-kick and did well to stop Scott Malone’s well struck effort.
But the goalkeeper, who this time last year was beginning the first of three loan spells at York, was still yet to make his best save. With Bikey stumbling, and allowing Jermaine Easter in, the substitute’s effort from a relatively tight angle would have found the bottom corner were it not for the fingertips of Pope.
With ten minutes to play, the course of the game had seemingly reversed. Previously pressing for a winner, the Addicks were now in a spot of bother.
So removing Jackson, and replacing him with Tucudean, was a brave and bold move from Peeters. Of course, sticking another man up top and going for the win was in some ways encouraging, but the side’s shape immediately disintegrated the moment the skipper went off.
It allowed Millwall further chances to get forward, and only a rather unconventional save from Pope, stopping the ball without his body behind it, prevented McDonald from stealing all three points for the Lions.
Charlton were forced to dig deep as The Valley grew tense. Solly especially as Malone and Fuller attacked down his side late on.
But, while Vetokele remained on the pitch, there was always a chance the Addicks could break forward as stoppage time was entered.
And that they did, as the Angolan collected the ball in midfield and burst forward before being cynically swiped out by Beevers. Frustration, however, was twofold for the home supporters, who were left cursing the referee after he failed to play an advantage that would have seen substitute Lawrie Wilson through on goal.
That, it appeared, was it for the Addicks, and probably the visitors. A seventh game without a win and a sixth without a goal against the Lions.
But, incredibly, Vetokele was given one more chance to break, and not even cynical defending from the Lions could stop the Angolan driving forward.
The Valley stood in anticipation as Vetokele perfectly picked out Tucudean, but the Romanian responded with a skewed lob that, although beating Forde, didn’t have enough on it to get past the desperate dives of Webster and Dunne. Heartbreak, and several choice words, in the Covered End.
In fact, some Addicks were still informing Tucudean that their mother, grandmother and their pet goldfish could have taken that chance when the resulting corner was swung in. Vetokele got to it, momentarily raising hope once again, but Forde comfortably held what was, in truth, little more than a flick on. The collective sigh telling.
And with the full-time whistle, there was an appreciative applause for the Addicks, who were a lot more deserving of appreciation than previous Charlton sides in this fixture, but frustration was also obvious. A hard point not to be sniffed at, but the reality is The Valley crowd should have been celebrating their first win over their rivals in 18 years.
In a sense, that late Tucudean miss summed up Charlton’s afternoon. There was plenty of promise, and plenty of positives, in this case the fact the Addicks were still looking to steal a winner despite considerable Millwall pressure, but the final delivery or telling touch was absent.
At times, Peeters’ side did everything but score. At times, Charlton were excellent.
The creativity and skilful play of Gudmundsson was a joy to watch, the composure and control of Coquelin vital to the periods of the game where the Addicks were on top and Solly, as well as being solid at the back, a real force going forward.
But for all the genuinely excellent play, there just wasn’t enough quality once the chance to cross or shoot became available.
A part of that was because Millwall did a very decent defensive job, with the lively Harriott, all too often blocked off by Dunne and the Lions’ centre-backs keeping Vetokele at bay for the majority of the game. Their efforts at the back probably mean they did enough to earn a point.
Nonetheless, it remains a frustration that none of the excellent attacking positions the Addicks got into, not least Tucudean’s one, were taken.
But, possibly, the Addicks could have been more of an attacking force were it not from some uncharacteristically sloppy defending from someone who has been solid all season.
Bikey was massively below-par, and that meant the momentum was never truly with the Addicks; Millwall always sniffed an opening whenever they had the ball.
Thankfully, the alertness of Pope, outstanding when called upon in tough conditions, meant the Lions failed to capitalise, but it’s incredible how fragile we looked at times against a relatively weak attack without Bikey to the fore. A player who, being as vital as anyone else in red, must perform well.
While the frustrations of wasting an opportunity, in more ways than one, to finally beat Millwall will wrangle for no doubt a few days, on balance, there are more positives than negatives to take into what will be another testing game against Ipswich next Saturday.
With that being a live TV game, there’s another hoodoo to break there. If Tucudean’s miss is anything to go by, it’s written in the stars that we can’t break the Millwall one, but a TV win could potentially make this a decent enough point.
I’ve said it before and, no doubt when I write my next unnecessarily emotive piece, I’ll say it again; my suffering as a Charlton fan is merely Chris Solly shaped when compared to the Andre Bikey sized pain that older and more wiser Addicks have had to endure.
But it doesn’t mean the defeats to Millwall haven’t hurt me. It doesn’t mean watching us conspire to play like a half-hearted non-league side at The Valley whenever they’ve visited hasn’t forced me to curl up into a ball and sob endlessly. It doesn’t mean our record against our South East London rivals doesn’t make me want to pack in this football nonsense and spend my Saturday afternoons walking round the great shopping centres this country has to offer.
Alas, as tempting as fighting Christmas shoppers at Bluewater or curling up into a ball and sobbing is (you’d probably have to do the second if you did the first), I shall once again be in SE7, blindly hoping that a Charlton side, probably without Igor Vetokele, can record the Addicks’ first win over their neighbours since before Joe Gomez was born.
The last derby victory I, and other Addicks, experienced was the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace in 2009. Matt Spring’s emphatic volley (it was a tap in, really, but it was against Palace so let’s call it emphatic), ended a run of 18 games without a win, and made Rob Elliott celebrate at full-time with more passion and excitement than almost any other Charlton player past or present. In a disgusting, Alan Pardew-infested season, it was one of few incredible nights.
Likewise, the defeat to Millwall in March 2013 put a dent on what was a season of relative success for the Addicks. The defeat to the Lions last season epitomised all that was wrong with a side capable of being absolutely horrendous. Horrible memories.
It makes you first of all fear defeat before you can contemplate victory. Because these games do matter. I like to underplay the importance of derbies, but once they’re around the corner, I’m as nervous as any other Charlton supporter.
Millwall fans will tell you that this contest isn’t a derby, rivalry or anything else other than another game for them. They don’t care about us, but they care about us enough to say they don’t care. It goes without saying that they care just as much as we do. They’re thriving off their current record and couldn’t stand for it to be ruined.
But some Charlton fans like to play the ‘it’s just another game’ card. They’re the wise ones. They’re clever enough to know that getting wrapped up in the emotions of a derby is a dangerous game to play, especially as an Addick.
But it’s almost impossible not to get wrapped up in the emotions. Not to feel broken after a defeat.
Once again, I probably have it easy. I can come back to my student flat in Eastbourne, lock myself away and pretend football doesn’t exist for a day or so. There’s no Millwall fans down here to make me want to make the short walk to Beachy Head and call it quits.
For Addicks who actually live in and around South East London, life after a derby defeat isn’t so fun. Avoiding Millwall fans for a week seems like a tough ask.
But that tactic, the hiding away and pretend it hasn’t happened one, so rarely works. It fact, it doesn’t work at all. Whatever Millwall fans want to believe, whatever those who pretend it’s just another game believe and whatever those who think they can just brush the result off believe, this is a vitally important fixture. The same three points, but not the same feeling.
In other words, please don’t make my life unbearable by being pathetic failures today, Charlton. Please.