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?