No one is suggesting that Charlton’s realistic target should be to achieve promotion. No one is suggesting that Charlton should be collecting three points each week. No one is suggesting that there hasn’t been encouraging moments, and an element of overachievement, in the brief life of Bob Peeters’ Charlton.
But to hand points to the opposition, and a weak one at that, through the same, infuriatingly obvious deficiencies is no longer something that can be laughed off. That can be glossed over because of the manner in which the Addicks started the campaign. That can be made to seem insignificant when a comparison is made to last season.
It would be easy, and probably justifiable, to blame Charlton’s uninspiring 2-2 draw with Blackpool on individual mistakes. Nick Pope’s insistence at flapping when attempting to intercept set-pieces not only allowed Chris Eagles to bundle in the visitors’ opener midway through the first-half, but gave Steve Davies the chance to force the ball into what was effectively an empty net for the Tangerines’ late equaliser.
Even then, having equalised before half-time through Yoni Buyens’ penalty and been given the lead by Jordan Cousins’ composed second-half strike, there was still a chance for the Addicks to gain their first three points at The Valley since October.
But Andre Bikey’s horrendous miss, blasting over from Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s cut back, should have been irrelevant. Pope’s failure to deal with Blackpool’s deliveries, too, shouldn’t have counted as much as it did.
For Charlton dominated possession and rarely looked troubled by Lee Clark’s side, seemingly incapable of manufacturing pressure and openings for themselves.
That possession, however, was little more than a statistic. Too often the movement was static, too often the passing was unimaginative and too often the insistence on being cautious against the division’s bottom side put the Addicks into uncomfortable positions they needn’t have been in.
To call it disappointing would be too kind. More often than not, it was horrendous.
Peeters’ disjointed, sluggish and uncharacteristically dispirited side, filled with square pegs in round holes, grew lifeless in attack, nervy at the back and invited pressure resultantly. It had been seen so many times before when defending a lead, but this was an afternoon of frustration.
The boos that met the full-time whistle a slight overreaction, but an accurate reflection of the anger among Addicks, who have every right to believe their side could be, and are capable of, showing a lot more.
There were concerns Charlton fans were going to be in for a difficult afternoon before the game’s first whistle was blown. At best, there was intrigue into how Peeters’ side would set-up.
Without the influential figure of Johnnie Jackson, Chris Solly not only took his captain’s arm-band but replaced the skipper in centre of midfield, with Joe Gomez named in the starting XI.
There was also a first start in three for Buyens, replacing Francis Coquelin following his re-call by parent club Arsenal.
With it apparent from the off that Callum Harriott was playing wide ride, Gudmundsson playing behind Igor Vetokele and Cousins kept out wide to accommodate Solly in the centre, it seemed a brave call from Peeters to experiment against an opposition who have struggled against the most basic of threats.
A simple 4-4-2 and an instruction to let Charlton’s creative threats be as expansive as possible seemed a sensible and safer option.
And those fears were realised before the tenth minute, as a group of Addicks lacking composure, accuracy in their passes and, above all, structure allowed Blackpool to enjoy the best of the game’s opening exchanges.
In fact, but for the outstretched fingertips of Pope, Jacob Murphy might well have put Blackpool ahead. The Norwich loanee’s threatening free-kick tipped behind by Charlton’s stopper.
The header from Peter Clarke, although off-target, from the corner that followed was another reminder that Clark’s rejuvenated Blackpool were no pushovers, and carried a threat from set-pieces.
But Charlton were seemingly willing to let the Tangerines show just how much threat they had. The lack of collective composure heightened by normally resolute figures making individual errors as Tal Ben Haim was forced to cover for Bikey on a number of occasions.
And Pope was called upon again before the Addicks had mustered their first effort on goal, collecting a cross that was inches away from the outstretched foot of Davies. Improvement, in both attacking threat and defensive cohesion, was desperately needed.
Fantastic forward runs from Gomez, the only player in red fearless enough to directly take on their opposing men, and a shot on the turn from Harriott, collected with all the calmness Charlton were lacking by Joe Lewis, offered glimpses that the hosts could put Blackpool on the back foot like they were expected to.
But they were just glimpses. There was no real substance or genuine threat when the Addicks moved forward. To say they were attacks would be too generous, simply periods of possession with minimal end product. The reluctance to test such a weak defence frustrating.
So Charlton, both for their failure in attack and lack of cohesion and composure when defending, only had themselves to blame when Blackpool went ahead after 25 minutes.
A corner, won after a rushed clearance from Ben Haim, flicked off Pope’s fingertips on its way through to Nyron Nosworthy, with the journeymen centre-back’s header touched over the line by Eagles. A soft goal to concede, but a score the Addicks couldn’t really claim was unjust.
Nonetheless, there was a school of thought that said going behind would bring Charlton’s best play to the fore, inspired by the need to put things right.
Instead, it remained a familiar story as the groans and frustrations around The Valley grew louder. But for a Gudmundsson free-kick, which ended up closer to a rather classy Blackpool flag then it did the goal, Charlton continued to clock up minutes of possession with no real threat.
It meant there was a state of disbelief when Harriott’s ball across the face of goal resulted in Vetokele, frustratingly below par otherwise, being sent to the ground by Clarke. Despite Referee Davies clearly signalling for a penalty, Charlton’s lack of cutting edge up to that point left some home supporters in need of confirmation and a quick pinch.
There was, however, no questioning the result of the spot-kick. Where penalties have often been wasted in previous seasons, Buyens’ presence means it’s effectively a goal as soon as they are awarded, even on a day where things seemed to be conspiring against the Addicks. The inner side netting found and relief, rather than jubilation, in the Covered End.
Somewhat undeservingly, it was game on.
And while Charlton couldn’t create another opening in the remaining eight minutes of the half, there was at least some increase to their forward threat, helped by Blackpool’s decision to retreat since conceding.
Nonetheless, the half-time whistle that followed Eagles’ horrendously wayward effort came at the perfect time for the Addicks. Still far from their best, and with plenty to sort out, going in at the break level provided Peeters a platform from which to start again and correct the mistakes that were made during the first period.
Clarity and organisation needed to be provided in midfield, with the entire structure disorganised at times, while some urgency and forward intent needed to replace the cautious and timid play.
To an extent, there was an improvement. There was a greater threat as the Addicks came forward, but largely because Blackpool remained deep inside their own half. Once in the final third, however, it was still frustratingly poor.
And such a lack of threat probably meant the Tangerines’ back four felt confident enough to stand off Charlton, keeping their shape but allowing those in possession for the reds time to do as they pleased.
But, on reflection, standing off Cousins nine minutes into the half might not have been the best of ideas. Given all the time in the world to pick his spot, the academy graduate placed an effort perfectly beyond Lewis from just outside the area to give Charlton a lead. A fantastic finish to light up a dull and desperate game.
It probably wasn’t deserved, but that mattered little to the now jubilant Addicks, who felt certain that their advantage wouldn’t be sacrificed against a Blackpool side who had completely lost their first-half spark.
In fact, this was the perfect opportunity for Charlton to record their first win by more than two goals this season. The lead almost stretched to two as Harriott and Vetokele came close in quick succession to getting a goal that would correct a poor afternoon for the pair.
But, despite seeing that Blackpool’s back four were clearly there to be exploited, the Addicks quickly returned to the timid side they were in the first-half. Too scared to overcommit despite getting into good positions, possession once again became a statistic, and not a platform from which to build attacks from.
Individual errors crept back in, with balls mis-controlled and passes misplaced, allowing the Tangerines to have occasional moves forward that they were simply incapable of creating for themselves. The chances were minimal, but Charlton’s negative approach when ahead was all too familiar.
It meant there was genuine worry when, with 15 minutes to go, Blackpool found the energy and spark to finally attack with some threat. Davies’ strike, saved well by Pope, signalling that they were not yet out of a game that, on the balance of play, should have been beyond them.
And the Covered End began to sweat as the final ten was entered, with Charlton again struggling to deal with a set-piece. With it only half-cleared, Tony McMahon struck an effort that looked to be going in, until Davies, most fortunately for the Addicks, got his leg in the way of the strike and blocked it behind for a goal kick. Watch checks were now frequent.
A half-chance fell the way of Solly, but, unsurprisingly, the goal-shy temporary skipper blasted over from a position that the best of finishers would have struggled to convert from, leaving plenty of pressure still on the hosts.
And it was that pressure that probably led to Ben Haim losing his head and committing a reckless foul on Ishmael Miller as he broke away. With the 90th minute near, having to defend another set-piece wasn’t great for the nerves of Charlton’s supporters.
Nor was seeing Pope lunge thoughtlessly off his line in an attempt to collect the ball, succeeding in only clattering into Davies as he nodded into the now unoccupied net. An equaliser so late is always harsh, but this was no less than Charlton’s performance had deserved.
But by the time the ball had been placed on the centre-spot for the Addicks to restart the game, four minutes of added-on time had been signalling. The perfect catalyst to motivate the Covered End.
And, to an extent, it motivated their men in their quest to avert what would be something of an embarrassing result.
Alas, all that followed was some equally embarrassing ineptitude in front of goal.
First, Tucudean just about managed to poke the ball goalwards, wrong-footing Lewis, only for the ‘keeper to recover, before Bikey wasted the opportunity to be a hero, ballooning what appeared to be the simplest of chances well over the bar, leaving The Valley standing as one in anguish. An afternoon summed up in one effort.
Had they regained the lead, a victory would have been unjust and certainly not what their performance deserved. The impassioned response at full-time, with no Addick pleased with what they had just witnessed, a perfect reflection. Frustration rife.
I can’t repeat enough that I felt the booing was possibly a step beyond what was needed, but it did reveal the frustration that Charlton fans have hidden well in recent weeks, motivated to do by the brief moments of positivity.
But there were no positives on show here.
In the first instance, Peeters seemingly got it very wrong. Playing such a bizarre and out-of-shape midfield seems as bizarre now as it did upon first hearing what side Charlton would be playing.
With Lawrie Wilson and Frederic Bulot available, playing Solly in the centre of midfield and Cousins out wide just didn’t make sense. For all Solly’s endeavour, it was apparent he’s not nearly effective in midfield as he is at right-back.
Of course, Jackson was sorely missed. His off-the-ball work and the way he brings the side together so obvious when it’s not there. But there’s no excuse for the lack of structure regardless of who or who wasn’t available.
So too is there little excuse for the cautious attacking play, that boarded on negativity whether ahead or not. I lost count of the amount of times a player in red had space to run in to, but chose to play a sideways or backwards pass.
Individually, too, the performances were not good enough. Cover your ears, Gomez, but there was little else above average on show from the rest of the men in red.
In fact, the poor performances of Bikey, completely lacking the resilience he has shown throughout the season, and Vetokele, seemingly having replaced his excellent first touch with that of Simon Church’s, made it feel like Charlton were without their spine.
The frustration, however, was not necessarily all about this performance. It was the result of a number of disappointing results, with the same errors cropping up.
We have the players available to play a brand of football the leaves the opposition on the back foot, especially at home. We’ve shown we’re capable of it, and recently, too, regardless of for how few minutes we played with serious attack intent for.
Instead, Peeters’ persistence to pass seems to override all. That, of course, is no bad thing, but it is when the passing is so often sideways, the movement often static and attacking runs shunned in favour of a safer pass. It happens both when ahead, and when not, but dropping so many points from winning positions is no accident.
It’s just completely frustrating to see a side capable of playing attractive, attacking football not do so in favour of something closer to the negative side of things.
Of course, having a small squad, which is being stretched to the limit, doesn’t help things, and the ambition of all at the club will be tested come January.
But there has been enough on show this season to suggest we should feel ambitious. We can realistically demand that our side does a bit better than two wins in two and a half months. We can realistically demand a performance much better than the one seen today.