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Forest Pearce Promising Charlton Start

The man whose psycho tag has been affectionately attached to him throughout his career in football seemingly found a way to get into the heads of the Addicks.

With Stuart Pearce spending the majority of the afternoon at the City Ground cutting a calm figure not fitting of the fired up character he is so often associated with, it wasn’t done directly.

But something he said or did at half-time completely changed the mentality of his Nottingham Forest side and Bob Peeters’ Charlton accordingly.

For the visitors went in at the break not necessarily completely comfortable, but having hassled, pressed and, crucially, shown enough composure to be in relative control of the lead they earned ten minutes into the half.

In fact, had Karl Darlow not prevented Igor Vetokele from adding to Callum Harriott’s excellent early strike, the game could have been all but over with just over half an hour played.

But a deficit of one gave Pearce and Forest the chance to respond in the second period.

Sent out considerably earlier than the Addicks, presumably having seen their boss brake a few tiles and damage a few ear drums in the home dressing room, Forest were visibly inspired in the half’s opening minutes.

With their leader’s words ringing in their ears, Forest grew more confident and more threatening with each move forward.

By contrast, a now disjointed Charlton were struggling. Not helped by the absence of their on-field leader, with Johnnie Jackson having been forced off midway through the first-half, they appeared intimidated, were unable to make the defensive interventions they had done previously and couldn’t retain possession successfully enough to break

So Forest’s equaliser, a marvellous long distance strike from Robert Tesche just before the hour, had long been on the cards. The composed Addicks replaced by a tame and error-prone side that continued to invite pressure having lost their advantage.

Regardless, Charlton found a somewhat desperate way to hold onto a point they were in danger of throwing away, but one that was a fair reflection of the ‘game of two halves’ nature of the contest.

You did, however, walk away from the City Ground feeling a sense of frustration and disappointment. Another failure to turn a point into three, Charlton’s 11th draw in 20 games, and a performance, for all of Forest’s improvement, that dipped so dramatically after the interval.

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And it’s probably how well the Addicks started the game that, although a point most would have taken before kick-off, means the case for calling this two points dropped is a strong one.

In what was an open, if uneventful, start, an unchanged Charlton side looked composed when on the ball, comfortable at the back in the face of Forest’s moves forward and had some spark going forward.

But it was Forest, still boasting a number of individuals with considerable attacking potency despite the absence of the suspended Britt Assombalonga, who made the first real penetrating move forward.

The lively Michail Antonio got past Chris Solly, and drove forward with the pace of a gazelle and the forcefulness of a bull. In fact, he was only a touch away from finding a pocket of space from which to shoot from when a combination of Solly, Francis Coquelin and Tal Ben Haim managed to stop the rampaging winger.

It was something of a scare for the Addicks, but before the visiting supporters behind the goal Antonio had just bore down on even had a chance to feel a sense of relief, their side had begun to break.

Ben Haim quickly picked out Johann Berg Gudmundsson, who had the space to turn out and eloquently pick out the run of Jordan Cousins on the opposite flank; a copy, although arguably slightly more stylish, of the move that worked Charlton’s breakaway goal against Derby in August.

The finish that followed was also more stylish. Cousins’ set back to Harriott sat up perfectly for the makeshift forward, who let his natural ability overrule his often indifferent decision making. Fired towards goal almost spontaneously, the sweetly struck effort clipped the post before nestling in the back of the net.

The variations of Mull of Kintyre had been sung with equal vigour before that point, but now Valley Floyd Road was being belted out by a delirious set of supporters in the away end.

In fact, frustrated groans emerged from the vocal group of Forest supporters to the left of Charlton’s visiting contingent as Antonio blasted over from a promising position and Jamie Paterson dragged an effort wide.

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But angst was not reserved for the home ends as, with twenty minutes played, a stricken Jackson hobbled off to be replaced by Lawrie Wilson, who oddly occupied the left midfield slot.

So often a key player in tightly contested away victories, Jackson had already put himself about and fought diligently in the midfield battle. Losing him seemed like a major blow given the context of the contest.

Nonetheless, Charlton, for a period at least, continued undeterred by the absence of their skipper.

There was possession a plenty for the hosts, but they simply couldn’t find a way to break down the Addicks. Solly and Morgan Fox dealt with Antonio and Paterson with relative ease, Cousins and Coquelin were pressing to an extent that meant Forest were forced into mistakes in midfield and Andre Bikey and Ben Haim picked up anything that hadn’t already been stopped.

To make Charlton’s position more promising, they still possessed a very real threat on the break. And that threat meant it was the seemingly under the cosh visitors who created the half’s best chance to give the game a second goal.

Winning possession in midfield, Harriott, brimming with confidence after his first goal of the season, drove forward before setting Coquelin free down the right.

The Arsenal loanee’s cross was flat and hard, but perfect for Vetokele, who flicked goalwards, only to be denied by a fantastic reaction stop from Darlow.

It produced a state of disbelief, questioning just how the soon to be Newcastle goalkeeper had made the save, and one of worry, with some predicting Charlton’s failure to convert their chances would again be costly, in the away end.

But there few signs as the half came to a close that the Addicks were to be seriously tested in the second half. Forest were lacklustre, a couple of tame efforts from Antonio and Henri Lansbury sent straight at the body of Pope did little to rectify that.

Nonetheless, believing Forest wouldn’t find a response in the second half was a naïve way to think. It was probably innocent, but that Fawaz Al-Hasawi occupied the club’s half season-ticket advert, and not Pearce, was a reminder that the Tricky Trees’ recent run of form had put some pressure on the boss.

Psycho was always going to force a response out of his players, by whatever means.

Sending the players out early was the first sign, they were clearly told they had little choice but to be up for the battle in the second half. Withdrawing Lansbury and replacing him with Tesche was the next step, while moving Tom Ince out wide and going with two up top was the final piece of Pearce’s masterplan.

And it worked. Dramatically so.

A lacklustre side seemingly low on confidence spared into life the moment the whistle was blown for the start of the second half. Antonio, lively enough in the opening period, had seemingly now reached another level, and it took just a couple of enterprising runs and subsequent dangerous crosses to get the City Ground crowd back fully behind their side.

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Where there were frustrated responses to missed chances in the first half, there was now only further support as Ince, taking advantage as a shell-shocked Charlton failed to deal with a delivery into the box, flashed an effort agonisingly wide of the post. It was as if Pearce had simply flicked a switch during the interval in order to completely change the entire complexion of the game.

Because not only were Forest playing with the intensity of Europe’s attacking elite, Charlton had seemingly called it a day at half-time and sent out their non-league body doubles to complete the work for them.

Clearances were panicked, passes were rushed and there was a level of disorganisation that made it seem like this group of players had never met each other before. It’s safe to say that, whatever Peeters had in mind at half-time, it can’t have been what his players were carrying out.

And a lack of composure almost proved costly again as the ball was cheaply given away in the centre, allowing for Paterson to be played through on goal.

As the forward shaped to shoot, Ben Haim got across to make a rather robust challenge that enraged the already fired up Forest fans. In truth, the likelihood of the tackle resulting in a penalty may have been artificially enhanced by the atmosphere inside the City Ground, with Referee Wright waving away the hosts’ claims in defiant fashion.

But it mattered little as just moments latter Forest drew level.

Again, Charlton could only clear in a panicked fashion from a ball sent into the box, and the clearance came straight to Tesche. Bringing the ball under his control with his chest, the Dutchman emphatically struck the ball goalwards on its way down, giving Pope, who got a fingertip to it, absolutely no chance.

As Tesche performed a backflip and Forest fans celebrated, you could have been excused for fearing the worst. The momentum was now totally with them, and the Addicks looked hopeless.

However, in what was Charlton’s first move forward after the break, the visitors were presented with an excellent chance to regain their lead just two minutes after giving it away.

Vetokele, relatively quiet by his high standards, finally came alive, holding off men in red to play Harriott through on goal. But the academy graduate could only poke unthreateningly straight at Darlow.

Wilson, now back on the right having struggled on the left, added to Charlton’s shot tally with an effort skewed horribly wide shortly after, and the Addicks were at least making some attempt to stem Forest’s dominance.

So too had Forest’s attacking threat calmed somewhat since their leveller. But, with a Jackson-less Charlton struggling in midfield and passes persistently wayward, the possession that the hosts continued to have meant they were always prime for another spell of dominance.

It was therefore to no one’s surprise that Forest found one last burst in the game’s final 15 minutes.

In fact, after Paterson had found the roof of the net with an effort hit off-balance, the ball spent the final ten minutes largely in and around Charlton’s penalty area.

Substitute Dexter Blackstock forced Pope into a strong save, Antonio made space for himself before seeing his strike well stopped by Charlton’s ‘keeper, and the young stopper was called upon to deal with a number of testing deliveries from wide positions as full-time approached. While other Addicks lacked it, Pope remained a composed figure.

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But even the seemingly resolute goalkeeper must have felt his stomach drop deep into four minutes of additional time as Forest won themselves a corner.

Having conceded a last minute goal seven days ago, it would have been oh so cruel on Charlton, who had at least fought harder and defended more successfully as the second period progressed, to do so again here.

So there was huge relief when Fraytt diverted the set-piece away from goal. A point that had looked the very least the Addicks would come away with at half-time had been a point desperately held onto.


And, despite the players, the likes of Pope, Solly and Harriott particularly deserving, being warmly applauded for their efforts at full-time, there were contrasting views on the value of Charlton’s point.

Regardless of whether it’s a point gained or two dropped, there’s no getting away from the fact that the drop in performance after half-time was disappointing.

Of course, Forest responded, and full credit to them. They looked a different team in the second period and certainly would have won the game had they played in such a fashion throughout. You certainly got the impression through parts of the second half that maybe their position is a bit of a false one and there’s unquestionably the potential there to finish in the top six.

But if Charlton had played in the manner in which they did in the first half throughout the entirety of the contest, then the chances of the Addicks coming away from Nottingham with anything less than three points would have been slim, even with a Forest revival.

It went from seemingly being the perfect away performance, to something rather concerning.

As mentioned previously, Jackson was a big miss in that second period, and you really noticed the off ball work he normally does without him there. But it isn’t really an excuse to fully justify the drop in performance.

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In fact, it’s quite difficult to fully explain how a side that looked so composed and confident in the opening period turned to a bit of a mess in the second. How Cousins and Coquelin went from looking in control in the middle to almost being bullied. How the defiant defending became pretty desperate and the breaks forward effectively stopped.

A part of it was playing Wilson horribly out of position for so long, a very odd call from Peeters that stunted Charlton’s attempts to get forward. In addition, it was slightly worrying that Peeters didn’t have an immediate response to Forest’s increased threat. They continued to come, and we continued to invite them to do so.

Another element was the fact that without Vetokele and Harriott able to win the balls pumped forward, there wasn’t an out ball from which to relieve the pressure at the back momentarily, increasing the frustration towards not recruiting a forward in the loan window.

But the main thing appears to be that this Charlton side are just simply very inconsistent.

And it’s that inconsistency, not just game to game but minute to minute, that’s holding us back. It’s that inconsistency that means leads haven’t always been protected and points have been arguably thrown away. It’s that inconsistency that makes dropping points an annoyance, knowing the Addicks can perform to a high standard, or at least effectively.

Given the fact the Addicks remain just three points from the play-offs, there is a danger of greediness. But that doesn’t prevent the frustration that Charlton’s league position could very realistically be considerably better.

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