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.