A testing year to be an Addick ended in a fitting manner at Portman Road. A routine victory for Ipswich Town left Bob Peeters’ side with just one win in eleven as Charlton dropped into the bottom-half for the first time this season.
While the visitors’ effort and endeavour couldn’t be faulted for much of the evening, a three goal defeat was arguably a fair reflection of the difference in quality between the two sides in the areas where it really mattered.
For Ipswich were ruthless in capitalising upon Charlton’s defensive mistakes. Charlton toothless and tame the few times they got themselves into good positions in and around Ipswich’s box.
So too is the scoreline a reflection of just how much Peeters has to put right in 2015. Dealing with corners, Tommy Smith and Daryl Murphy putting Mick McCarthy’s men two goals to the good from set-pieces before David McGoldrick added a third late on, and finding some cutting edge in the final third, with George Tucudean and Johann Berg Gudmundsson wasting good chances for the Addicks, among the priorities.
And although there is no shame in losing Ipswich, well-organised and likely to maintain their position in the Championship table for much of the season, Charlton supporters go into the New Year carrying worry with them.
The first time the Addicks have slipped into the bottom-half this season it may be, and arguably better than many expected back in August, but the form at the start of the campaign that has kept Charlton in the top-half for so long is now seemingly a distant memory.
The same mistakes being made; the same faults visible. A long list of resolutions is needed to stop this poor run of form becoming an unstoppable slide down the table.
Regardless of Ipswich’s considerable quality, the Tractor Boys having lost just once at Portman Road all season, there was some positivity going into the game. The second-half performance against Cardiff City on Boxing Day allowed Charlton supporters to believe the attacking threat seen at the start of the season had returned.
Peeters, too, was evidently caught up in the positivity. It would have been justifiable to play a solid 4-5-1 and frustrate the home side, but the Belgian boss set his side up in a fluid 3-5-2, similar to the formation ten-man Charlton excelled in against the Bluebirds.
It meant a recall for Igor Vetokele, replacing the suspended Callum Harriott, while Joe Gomez was forced to step in at the last minute to cover for Oguchi Onyewu, who suffered an injury in the warm-up.
And in the game’s opening minutes, the late disruption to Charlton’s XI didn’t appear to be hindering the side. In fact, Peeters’ bravery in his selection appeared to be paying off.
With over 1,000 vocal away supporters cheering the side, it was the Addicks who had the game’s first opening. A fantastic passing move concluded with Gudmundsson crossing to Jordan Cousins, but the makeshift wing-back was never likely to convert from a tight angle, poking into the side-netting.
Nonetheless, it was encouraging for those Charlton supporters, freezing to death in the away end. Their side had seemingly come to Suffolk to have a go.
But Ipswich, unbeaten in ten and never likely to allow their opposition to control the game, quickly settled. Having dealt comfortably with Charlton’s attempts to get forward, the Tractor Boys came close to scoring with their first meaningful effort on goal.
Only the width of the post denied McGoldrick from scoring a stunning free-kick, while Tal Ben Haim’s desperate hack away prevented the rebound from being turned in. A let-off for the Addicks, and a reminder of the quality the hosts possessed.
Charlton, however, were dealing well enough with Ipswich’s threat. Andre Bikey and Ben Ham seemingly back to their resolute best, winning almost every ball sent forward. Chris Solly and Gomez preventing anything from materialising down either flank as they pressed and jockeyed well. Yoni Buyens and Johnnie Jackson putting in a shift and a half in the centre, with both breaking up attacks and starting new ones.
In fact, the only other meaningful effort Ipswich could muster before the half hour saw McGoldrick tamely stab wide. Charlton, too, were restricted, with Gudmundsson’s cross-cum-shot curling wide, but such resilience from the Addicks was encouraging.
So to concede with 31 minutes played in the manner Charlton did was made doubly frustrating. A soft, entirely avoidable, goal.
Again, a weakness from set-pieces was exposed. The initial delivery met by a blue head and falling kindly in the six-yard box, but McGoldrick couldn’t connect. The ball was there for a Charlton man to clear, but no one stepped up, allowing Smith to eventually pounce and send 26,000 home supporters into celebration.
The visiting supporters, attempting to mask the celebrations by paying homage to Peeters’ bald head, were not too downbeat, however. Charlton hadn’t looked like capitulating before the goal, and, if not threat, there was still a drive to get forward.
And that drive was summed up by Jackson. Rolling back the years by playing in a box-to-box role, the skipper’s effort was unrelenting. Inches away from connecting with Cousins’ cross soon after the goal, there was hope for the Addicks.
In fact, they probably should have been level as half-time approached with two excellent openings passed up. First, alert goalkeeping from Bartosz Bialkowski meant the Polish stopper was able to race of his line and deny Tucudean, who had been played through on goal by Buyens.
With Bialkowski well off his line, the block came straight to Gudmundsson. The Iceland international curled an effort towards the empty goal, but pace on the shot was lacking, allowing Christophe Berra to get back and head off the line.
And before Charlton had fans had finishing cursing their luck, another swift counter attack produced a chance for the Addicks. Solly’s low delivery met by Tucudean but sent well over the bar by the big Romanian, who was earning little reward for his efforts.
There was evidently still life in Charlton, the Addicks not keeling over like they had in recent away games, but those missed chances almost proved costly on the stroke of half-time. Another McGoldrick free-kick hit the post, came back off Neil Etheridge’s head, and trickled just wide. Inches from game over.
Nonetheless, Peeters’ side still just about had a route back into the game. Some ruthlessness in the final third was seemingly all that was needed on the basis of the first period.
But, in truth, Charlton merely started the second period how they ended the first. All bark and no bite.
A lovely turn from Gudmundsson presented a fantastic opening, but the playmaker’s effort was tame and comfortable saved. Tame, too, was Tucudean having received the ball clean through on goal after yet more good work from Gudmundsson. With time and space, the forward dithered, and was disposed without getting a shot away.
For all their determination and effort, both on the pitch and in the stands, Charlton’s failure to find the back of the net, as it has done both in recent weeks and throughout the calendar year, was again haunting them. Jackson flinging himself at Tucudean’s cross but heading over.
It meant there was both a feeling that Ipswich’s second goal just before the hour was cruel on the Addicks and deserved. Cruel as Charlton’s efforts were going to count for nothing; deserved as punishment for wasting openings and failing to deal with yet another corner.
McGoldrick, constantly involved and giving all sorts of problems to Charlton’s backline, initially hit the bar with his header, but his fellow prolific forward, Murphy, was there to nod home the easiest of chances as the ball ricocheted back to him.
Game over, and game over from the faults seen so many times this season. The away end full of grumpy Addicks, the attitude on the pitch quickly turning from determined to flat.
And if that wasn’t already it for Charlton, the withdrawal of Jackson, replaced by Frederic Bulot, confirmed it. Possibly a leg-saving exercise for the skipper, whose unrelenting effort matched the class in his performance, but the shape that was supporting the Addicks both as they attacked and when Ipswich came forward disintegrated.
There was possession, and even a couple of efforts on goal, for Charlton as Ipswich sat back and settled for a 2-0 victory in the closing stages.
But much of it wasn’t threatening; Teddy Bishop’s wayward drive for the hosts about as likely to find the back of the net as Vetokele’s header over the bar and Tucudean’s tame strike straight at Bialkowski.
With nothing at all on show to motivate you into believing a comeback was about to occur, Tucudean’s pathetic attempt to win a penalty summed the final period of the game up. A booking followed for the desperate dive.
And pathetic also describes perfectly Charlton’s defensive efforts in stoppage time. Seemingly packing it in like a Sunday League desperate to get in the bar, substitute Stephen Hunt was able to feed McGoldrick to finish with class beyond Etheridge.
Immediately a hoard of Addicks got up to leave Portman Road, but they would have missed Charlton’s attempts to allow Ipswich a fourth. McGoldrick danced past Ben Haim, only for Etheridge to save, before Kevin Bru’s follow-up was just about cleared off the line by the Israeli centre-back.
There was one last chance for the Tractor Boys, with Stephen’s free-kick being headed wide by Noel Hunt, but Charlton’s misery and Ipswich’s jubilation had long been confirmed.
One club ending the year on a high, anticipating success in 2015. Another ending the year on quite a low, finding it difficult to predict what the next year will bring.
The soundtrack of celebrating home fans heard for the final time and the final away ground walked away from in misery in 2014.
Evidently, this was by no means the worst performance of the last year. Ipswich were kept honest by Charlton’s energy and endeavour for much of the evening, Jackson, Buyens and Gudmundsson all put in excellent individual performances and, with a bit of luck, the scoreline could have been at least a bit less brutal on the Addicks
The issues isn’t the performance in its entirety, nor is it that losing to a quality side is a desperate situation. I didn’t expect to win tonight; I’m sure the majority of you thought similar.
The problem is that during this run of just one win in eleven, and two since the start of October, the same mistakes and faults have cost Charlton. Soft goals conceded, largely from set-pieces, and a lack of threat in the final third, with finishing woeful, have seen the Addicks consistently drop points.
When the sort of factors that are prohibiting Charlton happen once or twice, that’s just bad fortune. The fine margins of Championship football working against the Addicks.
But as the same sort of events have been costly for so long, it’s difficult to put it down to bad luck. The poor defending and wasted chances are errors; errors that have not been addressed.
It’s become tedious and frustrating. A play-off push, that although was always unlikely did at least seem plausible early on, blown by completely avoidable mistakes.
Peeters and Charlton, refusing to sign players in the loan market and reinforcing how good the start to the season was, seemingly got complacent. Believing things would eventually sort themselves out.
But no longer is that start to the season a platform from which a play-off push can be made, nor a barrier to protect from criticism after poor performances. The relegation zone now nearer than the top six.
I don’t realistically believe we are in any sort of trouble. There is still quality in this side, and the issues can be addressed. Dealing with set-pieces can be taught and improving finishing can be addressed by finding the confidence in Vetokele, who once again struggled tonight, again and finding a forward of quality in the transfer market.
The crucial word there, however, is confidence. Peeters’ task not only to solve the issues within his side’s set-up, but also get each man playing with the confidence they had at the start of the season.
The longer this poor run goes on for, the harder it will be to restore that confidence. It’s no disaster, but victories are needed from the off in the New Year.